Brother John M.
two miraculous images of Our Lady of Guadalupe: one in Spain, the older, and
one in Mexico, the more famous. Both are
known by the same name because of some linguistic confusion.
image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain is an unpainted wooden statue carved in
an Oriental style. It was presented to
Bishop Leander of Seville in 580 by Pope Gregory the Great. This statue was widely revered by the people
of Spain until the invasion by the Moors in 771. At that time it was hidden for safekeeping
along with some historical documents explaining its special identity.
Those who had
preserved and documented the statue died in the conquest and knowledge of its
whereabouts was lost for 600 years. In
1326 Gil Cordero, a poor cowherd, was searching for a lost cow when he saw the
radiant figure of a lady appear at the edge of the woods. The lady told him about a buried treasure and
showed him where to dig to find it. She
requested that a chapel be built at that location. Gil reported the apparition to the local
clergy and brought them to the place where the lady said the treasure lay. Both
the statue and its historical documents were found in perfect condition in an
built the chapel, and the statue named for the nearby town of Guadalupe was
enshrined. Soon miracles were attributed
to the veneration of the statue, and the shrine became one of the most popular
places of pilgrimage in Spain. Tradition
holds that Christopher Columbus visited the shrine before making his first
voyage to the New World, and carried a likeness of the statue on his
voyages. The conquistadors also carried
a replica of the statue with them while on their conquests in America.
In 1531 on
December 9, only 39 years after Columbus discovered the western hemisphere, an
Indian convert to Christianity, Juan Diego, was crossing Tepeyac Hill near
Mexico City on his way to Mass. As he
paused he heard celestial music which he
said sounded like a "choir of birds."
When looking up he saw a golden cloud arched by a rainbow. Affectionately a voice called to him:
"Juanito, Juan Diegito," and
out of the cloud a beautiful young girl, about 16 years old and of Mexican appearance,
stood before him. She spoke to him in
Nahuatl, his native dialect, and asked where he was going. He replied that he was going to Mass and
woman told him that she was the "Mother of the true God who gives life." She explained that she wanted to help the
poor native Indians and that she would
like to have a chapel built on the hill so that the Indians would have a place
to come to her. At one time that hill
had been the site of a shrine to the Aztec goddess of the earth and harvest,
Tonantzin. The pagan shrine had been
destroyed by the Christian conquerors.
asked Juan to take her message to Bishop Juan
Zumarraga in Tenochtitlan, which became Mexico City. Although 57 years old, Juan had lived his
entire life in or near his native village of Tolpetlac. He had never been to Tenochtital which was
only about five miles from his home.
However he agreed to undertake the Lady's mission, even though it meant
venturing into unfamiliar territory to see a person he had never met.
bishop's residence the servants were amazed that a lowly Indian would request a meeting with the bishop. They kept Juan waiting for hours before
informing the bishop that Juan was waiting.
When Juan finally spoke with the bishop, matters did not go well. The bishop was polite, but he was clearly
skeptical of what Juan told him. As a conciliatory gesture, the bishop told
Juan he was welcome to come again to visit, if he wished.
disappointed Juan Diego returned to the hill and reported his failure to the
Lady. He asked that she select another
messenger because he was a "nobody."
However the Lady told Juan there were others she could have sent, but
she chose him. Then she asked him to try
again the following day, a Sunday. The
next day Juan returned to the bishop's residence, and again he was made to wait
for hours before he was admitted. Again
the bishop listened patiently but remained incredulous. He asked Juan to bring him a sign and then he
would seriously consider seriously the request to build a chapel.
reported another failure and the bishop's insistence on a sign, the Lady asked
him to meet her again on Monday and she would give him a sign for the bishop.
However Juan did not keep the appointment.
His uncle, Juan Bernardino, who had raised him from early childhood, was
seriously ill. Juan remained at home on
Monday to care for his uncle. Juan
Bernardino was near death and on Tuesday asked his nephew to bring him a
priest. Upset because he had not kept
his appointment with the Lady the day before, Juan chose another path to avoid
the hill en route to the village. But
the Lady was aware of this and blocked his path. She assured him that his uncle would be fine
and not to worry. She then instructed
him to ascend the hill and gather the flowers he would find there. Very little vegetation grew on that desolate
hill at any time of year let alone flowers in December. But Juan did as he was told. There Juan found Castilian roses, which had
not yet been brought to Mexico, but would be familiar to the Spanish
bishop. Using his tilma, or cloak, as an
apron he gathered as many of the blooms as he could carry and took them to the
Lady. She arranged them in Juan's
tilma. Holding the edges of the tilma
close to his chest, Juan proceeded to visit Bishop Zumarraga again.
Juan Diego again at the bishop's residence, the bishop's servants tried to
persuade him to leave. But Juan Diego
held his ground and expressed his determination to stay as long as
necessary. Eventually some of the
bishop's staff became curious about what was in his tilma. Juan refused to show them, and they
threatened force. Reluctantly Juan
opened one corner to allow them a glimpse of the flowers and sniff their fragrance. Immediately one of the servants rushed to
tell the bishop. The bishop asked that
Juan be brought to him at once.
explained to Bishop Zumarraga that the Mother of God directed him to bring the
flowers to the bishop as a sign. Juan opened
his tilma and roses cascaded to the floor.
The bishop fell to his knees in reverence of the image that appeared on
the cloak. Juan also was astonished at
the picture. The bishop invited Juan
Diego to stay the night, and the bishop took the tilma to his quarters to be
alone with it.
News of the
miracle spread quickly . By morning the
entire city was clamoring to see the
miraculous image. The tilma was taken to
the cathedral so that all could venerate it.
Diego believed the Lady when she told him his uncle was fine, he was still
anxious to see for himself. After
showing Bishop Zumarrga where the apparitions occurred on Tepeyac Hill, the two
were joined by a throng of followers as
they returned to his
Bernardino was fine and had an amazing story of his own to tell. After Juan Diego had left on Tuesday morning
to find a priest, and as Juan Bernardino felt his life ebbing, a beautiful
young Mexican woman appeared to him.
Immediately he felt his strength return, and he knelt before her. The Lady told him not to worry about his
nephew because she had sent him to the bishop with her image imprinted in his
tilma. She also told Juan Bernardino the
name by which she wished to be remembered.
The Spanish image
of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Mexican image became entwined in the popular
understanding. Neither Juan Diego nor
Juan Bernardino spoke Spanish. Their
conversations and dealings with Bishop Zumarraga were conducted through an
interpreter. When the name by which the
Lady wished to be called was heard by the bishop, he thought Juan Diego was
trying to say "the Ever Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe," a name
familiar to him. Consequently that is
what he called her image on the tilma.
Since the Lady spoke to these two men in their native language, it is
dubious that she used the word "Guadalupe," since Guadalupe can
neither be spoken nor spelled in Nahuatl because this Aztec language contains
neither the letter "d" nor "g." No Indian writings about the miracle use the
word Guadalupe; they prefer Tonantizen, the name of the former pagan shrine at
that spot, or other pagan names. While
the bishop never offered a correction, he was most likely aware of his error
because he referred to the image as the Immaculate Conception when writing to
Cortez to invite him to join the
procession to the first chapel built to house it. Some thought the bishop made a mistake and
that Juan Bernardino used a word that sounded like Guadalupe. Earlier scholars speculated the Lady said
Tequantlaxopeuh, pronounced Tequetalope, which means "Who saves us from
the Devourer." Devourer is Satan
and the dreaded pagan serpent-god Quetzalcoatl to whom 2,000 Aztecs were sacrificed each year. Some think the word the Virgin used was more
likely Coatlaxopeuh, pronounced Coatallope which means "she who breaks,
stamps, or crushes the serpent. This is
reminiscent of both the winged serpent Quetzalcoatl and Satan, and recalls
were treated cruelly by their Spanish conquerors under the leadership of Don
Nune de Guzman, who believed the Indians were not truly human and therefore
unworthy of evangelization. To him the
Indians were soulless and deserved to be exploited. Neither did Bishop Zumarraga and his associates
have a high appreciation of the Indians, but they did believe that because the
Indians had the ability to reason they could attain salvation through
baptism. For this the Indians were
accorded a degree of respect. On the
other hand, most Indians had no interest or desire to give up their own gods in
favor of the God offered by the Spaniards.
Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino were clearly exceptions. Fearing an Indian rebellion, the bishop sent
a message to Charles V begging that Guzman be replaced. Charles agreed with Zumarraga, but the
distance between Spain and Mexico delayed the replacement. The Lady, however, was prompt. Her apparitions and the miracle of the tilma
were the turning point in the Christianization of the Indians. The Indians recognized signs and symbols in
the picture on the tilma that were meaningless to the Europeans. As a result eight million Indians were
converted in the seven years following the apparitions.
chapel where the tilma hung took only 13 days to build. Juan Diego was appointed custodian and lived
in an adjacent lean-to shelter.
For 17 years until his death in 1548 he greeted pilgrims and
explained his experience.